"Won't happen again sir." She said that every time, if his math were right this was the fifth time she'd patently disobeyed a direct order, usually from his ownself, to save his life. Her face had been a studied blank as they stumbled aboard. Kaylee looked as though she wanted to fling her arms around Inara, but Simon, with the obtuse wisdom that occasionally seized him, insisted on triaging the three of them first, and in his brusque, yet compassionate way, escorted her to the infirmary asking the rest of them to wait outside.
Mal looked 'round at his crew. Kaylee, after receiving his assurances that he was just fine, was hugging her arms to herself since she couldn't hug Inara. Jayne was looking over the two wallets and one watch he snagged; each time Mal caught his eye he saw his own guilt reflected back. River was sitting in a chair, her eyes closed, and aside from the stiff posture, looking peaceful enough to be asleep.
Zoe was questioning him with her eyes. He shrugged, not knowing the answer to her mute query himself. That was first on his list of questions to ask Simon as soon as Inara's examination was finished. She nodded, and moved to stand closer to him, offering her silent support.
When the infirmary door opened, before Kaylee could fling her arms around Inara, Zoe stepped between the two of them, and firmly, but gently led Inara away. Kaylee looked hurt, but Simon pulled her into a quick embrace before asking for his next patient which mollified her some.
As soon as Simon closed the door Mal launched his questioning with a blunt, "She alright?"
Simon spluttered in indignation as he replied, "That information is confidential-" Mal held his hand up and interrupted him, "I know all about yer oaths and patient privilege and what not. An' truth be told 'm sure more 'n one person aboard this ship is grateful for it. But I ain't askin' you as a curious bystander. I'm askin you as Captain of this boat."
Simon gave him a probing look before he responded. "She isn't a crew member." Mal immediately moved to protest, but he continued. "And she's alright. She.. She's just... She just needs to rest."
Mal pinned him with his eyes.
Simon swallowed hard, and looked at him as if begging him to not make him say it, but Mal had to know, had to hear it from the expert's mouth. Only when Simon, calm, collected Simon, could say those words would he believe them.
Mal waited outside the infirmary to hear the news on Jayne, listening to Kaylee chatter away. It wasn't her normal sunshiney chatter, but it was better than his own thoughts. She was fussin' over them, an' there were some bruises that were gonna look a helluva lot worse tomorrow, not to mention some bleeding from cuts along his scalp and arms. Felt almost good to have her treatin' him like a hero. Almost. He'd kept count. Two unnarmed men shot. Two blown up. Not to mention all those who had died in the crash. Didn't mean for it to go that way. Supposed to be in and out. Fast. Easy. No one hurt as didn' need be.
He tried to push back the dark thoughts. He sighed heavily, more bodies that all dead lie. And he'd been too late anyway. Years too late. When Jayne trundled past, plastered with several weaves, he gladly turned his attention to Simon, who assured him that though Jayne had sprained his wrist in the crash all three of them had made it out remarkably unscathed. Mal nodded, and leaving the two young lovers alone for some much needed decompression, headed to the bridge.
It was empty. Zoe or River must have programmed the autopilot. Staring at the stars brought a deep uncomfortableness, and he felt driven to roam the ship, to make sure all within his domain was safely locked down and as it should be. Safe and sound.
Jayne's bunk was buzzing with rhythmic, load music, and a low murmur of intimate conversation floated up from Kaylee's. Zoe's was empty. He continued on down, checking the galley, the engine room, the pantry, the catwalks, the shuttles, the cargo bay, the showers. He checked the whole gorram ship before he finally headed to the passenger dorms.
River was there, sitting in front of Inara's door. As he drew close she turned her shining face up to him, wet with tears. He stood in front of her, placing his hand on the door, but not drawing it open. He could hear the two of them. Inara speaking in uneven tones punctured with heavy pauses, and Zoe talkin' to her. Soothin' her. He could hear the low, steady murmur of comfort, even if he couldn't make out the words. Could see it in his mind's eye. Could remember it from all those years past.
"They all did lie." River's voice was barely audible. He looked down at her, and dropped next to her.
"Yes. They all dead lie." He said.
Then standing he started to walk away, when she called out after him. "Sergeant." He turned to face her, she had moved to standing and was staring at him with a strange calmness . Her voice when she spoke had a deep authority to it, far unlike her own voice, "peace like a river." She then smiled, and continued in her regular tone, "spring will come."
He turned away, startled ; it had been a long time since anyone dared quote the bible to him, but something about her words soothed him. He walked away, heading for the bridge, knowing Inara was in the best hands he could have brought her to with Zoe and River there to attend.
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